Selling drugs or disease?

By Michael Jankovic

As detailed by Naomi Klein in her book No Logo, the transition between marketing products and marketing a brand was the transition from marketing materials to marketing a lifestyle. Each market has its own preferred idea.

Cleaning products have the most direct correlation with their products, they emphasize cleanliness as the virtue. As the selling points of product become less and less based on utility and more based on taste, the ideas become more separated from the product they are trying to sell.

For cars, the emphasis is on freedom. We see cars speeding across grand landscapes and feeling the freedom the right car can give us (though, of course, hardly any of us will ever take our car off road, or do 360 degree spins on purpose). Still, motorized vehicles give us a freedom of mobility unparalleled throughout most of history.

Then there are clothing, cosmetics, fragrance, soft drink, alcoholic beverage and cigarette commercials that speak to us on a plane totally removed from the product they are selling. Hence, we have images of perfect people leading perfect lives who just happen to be wearing, smelling, and drinking the products advertisers want them to be wearing, smelling and drinking.

In these cases, the marketers want us to believe these ideal lives are possible with the purchase of a product. The selling point for these products is image, because purchasing them means identifying oneself with a certain version of what it is to be cool. Knowing this is the case, marketers at Sprite must have been particularly pleased with the irony when they came out with their “image is nothing, thirst is everything” campaign.

In matters of taste, like Sprite or Levi’s, it is a given that people want to be a part of a certain group. In buying a product they can become a member, or believe themselves to be a member, of these groups.

The new development in marketing is selling a problem and a solution together. The marketing of drugs has always bordered on this type of marketing. First they would give us the physical symptoms we needed to look for, then the solution. So, Nyquil became the “stuffy nose… so you can rest medicine.”

The “new drugs,” the ones that are designed to soothe psychological rather than physical symptoms, not only have to sell their products, they have to sell the idea of psychological disease.

The major problem with advertising the symptoms of disorder is that commercials have the ability to make their own market. People who feel “abnormal” can report the symptoms stated in an advertisement, and because the only way to diagnose psychological disorders is through information gained from the patient, they can get medication they really do not need.

In addition, these marketing campaigns drive up the price of the medication because advertising does not come cheap. If a drug company produces something that can help people, they should advertise directly to doctors. If their product has merit, then psychiatrists will dole it out.

Second, and totally apart from the issue of advertising, is the medication of abnormality. It is wrong to medicate mild conditions of mental illness.

In severe cases where a person literally cannot function without medication, it is obviously important that they get what they need. In cases where people are able to function, but with trouble, like attention deficit disorder and mild forms of depression, the government should not sponsor their medication.

This week, in the National Post, there is a running series entitled “Shadow Syndromes.” This series details how mild forms of mental “illness” are responsible for some of the greatest figures of history. For example, some psychologists believe Albert Einstein had a mild form of autism.

What we must realize is that mental “illness” is often a creative force in the people who “suffer” from them. Depression is probably the source of more great works of art and literature than any other psychological phenomenon, especially happiness. By medicating these sources of creativity a person is probably losing more than he is gaining.

So before Prozac and Ritalin rule our world completely, think about what we might be missing.

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